They Thought They Were Free

In this post we will look at some experiences that people in Germany had during the rise of Nazi Party. Overall the trend is that you make it almost impossible for anyone opposed to your thought as an outcast, and others just follow the herd. Many measures of the present incumbent have parallels to this. And especially the current drama of demonetization of high denomination currency notes.

This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.”

They say that it was essential that it should have been kept secret, otherwise the point of exercise would have been futile. People of the country are asked to make sacrifices for the betterment of the country. Otherwise the country was in crisis. So we had to take emergency steps. What is happening in all this introduced chaos is the issues which need to go in public imagination are removed. These are issues which the government doesn’t want people to discuss, debate. Like a magician they are directing the public attention with gimmicks and shenanigans when their slight of hand remains invisible from public scrutiny.

In all these perception managing exercise the ever changing breaking news in our main-stream-media plays an ubiquitous role. They are supposed to be a pillar in the democratic process, but instead we find that they are malleable and play hand-maiden’s role for diverting and capturing public imagination. Most of the time this is in sync with what the incumbent government wants.

“The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?”

Thinking is also outsourced. Experts are called in, to provide excerpts from ideas too complex and too common for common citizens to comprehend. Each idea is digested in studios, what is generated is a pre-digested version of the ideas so that you don’t need to do it. You perhaps do not have time to do it. There are more relevant things than ruminating about rationalisations regarding political policies. And if at all you do question or think about these, one of the basic logical fallacy of ad hominem is employed. Shoot the messenger, we already have the message (or massage after McLuhan). Messenger is the mess-maker. Here in public imagination the questioner becomes the questioned. The questions are irrelevant, motive, history and ideological stance of the person asking the question is more important. Questioning policies and performance metamorphose from act of trying to understand to act of treason to undermine.

The perpetrator becomes predated. Overnight they are condemned to become public and hence national enemies. Any one who does not support becomes anti-national by default. To live here you have to live by our rules, otherwise you should go away. Who gave this authority to them? This is again questioned back, you must have something to hide, hence you are not supporting this. Then it captures public imagination, those questioning are enemies within. Dissent is treason.

And we have in form of Pakistan the “Other”. The national enemy without. When there is a dullness in the public imagination, raise the ante in form of the bogey man for all our troubles. Again here the pattern is well laid out.

Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none.

What might happen next, what event will break the news, tomorrow is unknown. Through surveys through debates it is brought to fore that “All is well.” If it is not well for you, the trouble is with you. All the problems are only for people who are enemies within. Those supporting, are the ones who are honest, happy and hardworking. Rest of you need to prove you allegiance, we already have by token sloganeering, literally and figuratively both.

And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.”

If you think too much you become the pseudo-leftist-communist-atheist-liberal. Taking a stance against the establishment is an act of defiance against the country. The content of the stance is not important, questioning is. Your thought is against the wisdom of the entire society. The entire system acts against you. The system forces you to choose. AADHAR is a case in this category. All the arguments against are drowned in a sea of arguments which do not address the concerns raised. Look at the benefits for the poor they say, those who fall in line, are normal. It is only people like you living in ivory towers feel bad about it. Outside everyone is using it, and they are happy about it. The dubious and shady way in which it was legalised itself should have sent shudders, but rather it has evoked a lukewarm response. Those in power are so intoxicated that even supreme court ruling that it should not be mandatory is ignored left right and center. Each day incrementally small changes and notifications are provided. Each day it is becoming near impossible to live without it. This is already under the premise that it is needed. No one can question that. And if you do, they ask what is your problem? Why can’t you fall in line? Just accept it will you. People must have bank account and must have ID cards, who cares if it is not constitutionally mandated?

Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed.

But till we find out and till we realise the water is already boiling and we and our coming generation is already cooked.

They Thought They Were Free  – Milton Mayer

Millions of Computers for Millions of Children

Yesterday ( it should be now read “a couple of years back”)while giving a talk, I was asked this rhetorical question (not verbatim, but close):

“What did you say was the sample size of your study?”

“Two. This was a case study.”

“So, considering that the activity that you have designed requires a computer and expeyes (a hardware for collecting data). How can you scale it up to schools which have millions of children?”

It seems that the person who was asking the question, for lack of any other question asked this. In seminars and academic institutes, there are always people like this, who will ask the question for sake of it. Just to make their presence felt. Anyways, it was good for me. I was expecting that this question would be asked. And I was very happy that it was asked.

The short answer that I gave was:

“You give a million computers to a million children!”

one-computer-per-child

Some people thought, this was a rhetoric answer to a rhetoric question, which incidentally was also humorous, as it also generated a lot of laughter, but this was not the case. In this post, I would like to elaborate on the short answer that I gave.

Of course, most of these ideas have come from reading and hearing Seymour Papert (who has recently demised, the article was started before that, but due to my lethargy never seen completion). The memes have been transferred, and now I am trying to make sense and adapt them to my own experience. And I would like to assert again that reading Papert has been an immensely rewarding and enriching experience for me. His are perhaps few books which I do not mind reading again and again. I like his writing style of giving parables to explain points in his arguments because the points he wants to make do not need a backbone of statistics to survive. Here also I will give a hypothetical example (derived from Papert) to explain what I meant.

The technological tools that children are using now mainly in the traditional school system are the pencil and the book. In this case, almost all educationalists would agree that every child would require to have one pencil to write and book for study. Even then there are some children who do use computers, some because their parents have them, some because the school has them, some have both. Now we consider a time 50 years back. Computers were almost non-existent, as we know them now. Computers were one of the most complicated and expensive technological artefacts that humans produced. But the enormous amount of money and efforts were put in the miniaturization of computers. So finally now we have computers that have become devices that we now know. In the last 50 years, the computer technology has grown exponentially, while the prices for the memory and computing power that one gets are falling, their usage.

Consider a classroom of 50 years back. Though there were computers they were something to be wondered about, something like very very expensive toys. The computers were not mature enough that children could handle them. In the classroom, the only available technological artefacts were used. The technology in the classroom was the pencil
and the printed book and a notebook to write with the pencil and of course, there was the blackboard.

Wait, you might be thinking we are in a digital age technology by default means computers, be it in your smart-phone, laptop or a desktop or at least a projector for god’s sake. But here I would like you to think about somethings which are very deeply embedded in our cultural psyche. The very fact that many things which we take for granted are
all technologies. For example, the writing instruments that you have to be it a pencil or a chalk are all technologies. But most of us don’t think of them as such because they are so common and most of us have had our experience with them. The mystery is lost. As the Arthur C. Clarke once said about technology and magic as his Third Law:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

So deeply embedded this image is that we define it as the normal for our learners to be able to use this technology. Rather the entire edifice of our educational system rests on it. For example, your educational achievement is more or less based on the fact how much you can “write” in a limited time, from memory. And this we call assessment, examination and the like. Also the written text, from the time of Gutenberg, has more
or less complete hold over our intellectual activities. The text formed the basis of our discourse and analysis of the world. Why do children use to write with a pencil on piece of paper in order to learn. The drill typically starts with the children trying to
recreate elegant fonts in some shape or form which is decipherable for the teacher. You have to write “A” 500 times to get it right, ok? How would you write words when you cannot write alphabets? How would write sentences when you cannot write words? How will you write examinations if you cannot write sentences?

Is it the only way in which we can learn language? If we observe this in detail we see that only reason we ask them to write “a” 500 times in a notebook is because it comes from an era when there was no other technology to write. And this is the same learner who can converse well and answer questions, but yet we need them to write it down with their hands. It was the only possible solution. And generations of humans were trained using this method. So much so that most of us still think this is the only method for education. Any deviation from hand-written text is seen as a abomination. But typing on a computer provides us, and especially, young learners with cognitive offloading of immense task of holding a writing instrument and shaping an alphabet, a word, a sentence out of it. Children learn to type much much faster than they learn to write with a pen. And what is even more important is that the written text is in electronic form, which can be revised and shared with their peers and teachers. In hand written text there is no question of revision, the original takes too much effort to produce so there is no question of revising it.

one-pencil-per-child

Considering the amount of cognitive load the child has to undergo to produce decipherable alphabets, words and sentences in order to “write”, a thing which he can perfectly do orally, are the results worth the effort? Are there any studies which show that this is an efficient method? Yet is used everywhere without exceptions and we accept it meekly without challenge because this is how it was done in the past and someone in the past must have had good reason to use this hence, we should also use this. Papert calls this as “QWERTY Phenomena”. Somethings just get culturally embedded because the are
suited for an bygone era, the are like relics in the current era. And writing with pencil and paper is just one of them.

Now consider the question that was asked at the beginning of the post. Replace the computer with a pencil. The question then becomes,

“So, considering that the activity that you have designed requires a
pencil and a notebook. How can you scale it up to schools which have
millions of children?”

one-pencil-per-1000-child-cyan

Suddenly question seems rather bizzare and at the same time sotrivial. Of course you might say but the pencil and notebook is so much cheaper than the computer. Yes. It. Is. But if you consider that a well designed laptop like OLPC, can serve a learners for 5-6 years and can remain with them through the schooling years. Then calculations show the investment that we seek is rather modest. In general when something becomes more
common, it also becomes cheaper. Mobile phones provide an excellent proof for this argument. And it is not happening in some first world country but in our own. What has promoted a rapid growth in the number of mobile users? How do tariff plans compare
from 15 years back to now? How come something which was something exclusive for the rich and the famous, just a few years back, is now so common? It is hard to find a person without a phone these days. Even people who do not have access to electricity have a
phone, they get it charged from some place else. Now if some sociologist would have done some study regarding usefulness of mobile phones for communication, perhaps 20 years earlier, they might have had some statistics to show, but critics would have said,

“but the cost is too prohibitive; this is perhaps ok for a case study you seriously
think all (or most) of the people can have this; and people who cannot
read and write will be able to use this; people do not have
electricity and food to eat and you want to give them mobile phone?”

But look at where we are, because people found contextual and personal value in using a mobile, it became their personal assistant in communicating with others, an inherent human trait, they got it. With proliferation of the mobiles, the cost of hardware came down, the cost of tariffs came down, almost everyone could afford one now.

It is sensationalist to compare a pencil and laptop in terms of cost, but when you consider the kinds of learning that can happen over a computer there is simple no match. They are not different in degree but in kind. Note that I have used “can happen” instead of will happen. This is for a reason, a laptop can be used in a variety of ways in learning. Some of the ways can be subversive, disruptive of the traditional education system, and redefine radically the ways our children learn. But in most cases its subversion is tamed and is made submissive to the existing educational system. And computers are made to do what a teacher or a textbook will do in a traditional context. So it is blunted and made part of a system which the computer has the potential to alter radically.

Some people then cite “research studies” done with “computers”. These studies will typically groups “with” computers and “without” computers. Some tasks are given and then there are pre and post tests. They are looking at the submissive action set in a highly conservative educational system. Even if such studies show the use of computers in a positive light, all these studies are missing the point. They are just flogging a dead horse. The point that computers when used in the right way, the constructionist way, can change the way we learn in a fundamental way. There are many studies which “prove” the counter-point. That computers don’t improve “learning”. Typically children will have limited access both in terms of time and sharing it with more people. One computer shared by three people, one hour in a week. Even then children learn, with computers if
used correctly. Continuing with out example of the pencil, consider this: one pencil shared among three children, once a week! Seems absurd isn’t it? But this is what typically happens in the schools, children are not allowed to develop a personal relationship with one of the most powerful learning ideas that they can have access to. Access is limited and in most cases uninformed involving trivialisation of the learning ideas that can redefine learning.

one-computer-per-1000-child

On who controls who

PUNCH AND JUDY, TO THEIR AUDIENCE

Our puppet strings are hard to see,
So we perceive ourselves as free,
Convinced that no mere objects could
Behave in terms of bad and good.

To you, we mannikins seem less
than live, because our consciousness
is that of dummies, made to sit
on laps of gods and mouth their wit;

Are you, our transcendental gods,
likewise dangled from your rods,
and need, to show spontaneous charm,
some higher god’s inserted arm?

We seem to form a nested set,
with each the next one’s marionette,
who, if you asked him, would insist
that he’s the last ventriloquist.

-Theaodore Melnechuk

Politics Science Education or Science Education Politics or Science Politics Education

I am rather not sure what should be the exact title of this
post. Apart from the two options above it could have been any other
combination of these three words. Because I would be talking about all
three of them in interdependent manner.

If someone tells you that education is or should be independent of politics they, I would say they are very naive in their view about society. Education in general and formalised education in particular, which is supported and implemented by state is about political ideology that we want our next generation to have. One of the Marxian critique of state formalised education is that it keeps the current hierarchical structures untouched in its approach and thus sustains them. Now when we come to science education we get a bit more involved about ideas.

Science by itself was at one point of time assumed to be value-neutral. This line of though can be seen in the essays that some of us wrote in the schools with titles like “Science: good or bad”. Typically the line of argument in such is that by itself science is neither good or bad, but how we put it to use is what determines whether it is good or bad. Examples to substantiate the arguments typically involve some horrific incidents like the atomic bomb on one hand and life saving drugs on the other hand. But by itself, science is not about good or bad values. It is assumed to be neutral in that sense (there are other notions of value-neutrality of science which we will consider later). Scientific thought and its products are considered above petty issues of society and indiduals, it seemed to be an quest for eternal truth. No one questioned the processes or products of science which were assumed to be the most noble, rational, logical and superior way of doing things. But this pretty picture about scientific enterprise was broken by Thomas Kuhn. What we were looking at so far is the “normative” idea of science. That is we create some ideals about science and work under the assumption that this is how actual science is or ought to be. What Kuhn in his seminal work titled The Structure of Scientific Revolution was to challenge such a normative view, instead he did a historical analysis of how science is actually done ans gave us a “descriptive” picture about science, which was based on historical facts. Keeping up the name of the book, it actually revolutionised the way we look at science.

Now keeping in mind this disctinction between “normative” and “descriptive” views is very important. This is not only true for science but also for all other forms of human endeavours. People often tend to confuse or combine the two or many times are not even aware of the difference.

After Kuhn’s groundbreaking work entire new view about science its processes and products emerged. Various aspects of the scientific enterprise which were initially thought about outside purview of science or not affecting science came in to spotlight. Science was dissected and deconstructed from various points of view. Over the next few decades these ideas emerged into full fledged disciplies on their own. Some very valid criticisms of the scientific enterprise were developed and agreed upon. For example, the idea that there exists “the scientific method” was serisously looked into and was found to be too naive. A modified view was adopted in this regard and most of philosophers of science agreed that this is too restrictive a view. Added to this the post-modernist views about science may seem strange and bizzare at times to the uninitiated. This led to what many call as the “science-wars” between scientific realists and postmodernists. The scientific realists who believe that the world described by science is the real world as it is, independent of what it might be. So in this view it implies that there is objective truth in science and the world it describes is real. This view also implies that there is something like “scientific method” and it role in creating true knowledge about the world is paramount. On the other hand postmodernist critics don’t necessarily agree with this view of the world. For example they question the very idea of objectivity of the scientific world-view. Deriving their own meaning into writings of Kuhn (which he didn’t agree to) they claimed that science itself is a social construct and has nothing to do with the real world. The apparent supremacy of “scientific-method” in creating knowledge or presenting us about the world-views is questioned. The entire scientific enterprise from processes to products was deciphered from dimensions of gender, sexual orientation, race and class. Now, when you are teaching about science to learners there should be an awareness about these issues. Some of the issues are usually overlooked or have a logical positivist nature in them. Many philosophers lament that though considerable change has happened in ideas regarding scientific enterprise especially in philosophy of science, it seems corresponding ideas in science education are not up to date. And this can be seen when you look at the science textbook with a critical focus.

With this background I will go into the reasons that made me write this post and the peculiar multi-title. It seems for post-modernists and some others that learning about politics of science is more important than learning science itself. And they feel this is the neutral view and there is nothing political about it. They look at science as an hierarchical enterprise where gender, class and race play the decisive role, hence everyone should know about it. I am not against sharing the fact with learners of science that there are other world-views, what I am against is to share only a peculiar world view which is shaped completely by one’s ideology and politcal stance rather than by actual contents. Many of the people don’t actually know science, yet they feel that they are fully justified to criticise it. And most of these people would fall on the left side of the political spectrum (at least that is what their self-image is). But the way I see it is that these same people are no different from the right-wingers who burn books without reading them. The pomos may think of themselves as intellectually superior to the tilak-sporting people but they are not. Such is the state of intellectuals that they feel threatened by exclusion of certain articles or inclusion of certain other ones in reading courses. They then use all their might to restore the “balance”. At the same time they also tell us only they have some esoteric knowledge about these issues which people like me cannot have. And no matter what I do I will never be able to do what they can. Perhaps they have super powers which I don’t know about, perhaps in their subjective world view the pigs can fly and this fact can be proven by using other methods than the scientific ones. Last point I want to make in this is inspite of all the criticims of science and its products it doesn’t stop these people from refraining use of these products and technologies! This is hypocrisy, they will curse the phone or the computer if it doesn’t work, what they perhaps don’t realise is that it might be working just that the pomos are not able to see it in their worldview.

Can general laws of physics explain everything?

Many scientists look on chemistry and physics as ideal models of what psychology should be like. After all, the atoms in the brain are subject to the same all – inclusive physical laws that govern every other form of matter. Then can we also explain what our brains actually do entirely in terms of those same basic principles? The answer is no, simply because even if we  understood how each of our billions of brain cells work separately, this would not tell us how the brain works as an agency. The “laws of thought” depend not only upon the properties of those brain cells,but also on how they are connected. And these connections are established not by the basic, “general” laws of physics, but by the particular arrangements of the millions of bits of information in our inherited genes. To be sure, “general” laws apply to everything. But, for that very reason, they can rarely explain anything in particular.

– Marvin Minsky in The Society of Mind pp. 26

Trump’s Trumpeting Triumph

Election of Donald Trump and Democracy

I have two observations to make for the election of Donald Trump to the president’s office in he United States. First there is a certain sense of bewilderment in general public as well as the intelligentsia, they ask this question: “How can this possibly happen?”, “This is the doom of America” among other things. The arguments that are generally given are he is white-supremacist etc. And one of the major reasons for people to not expect him to win was that major media houses were against him. They portrayed a very peculiar negative picture of him through and through the last few months of campaign. Anything he said was scrutinized and all kinds of people were supposed to be against him. But how did we know this all? It was through the very same media houses that were biased against him. Can you really expect the media houses to give us an accurate description of ground reality when their entire aim was to derail his campaign. So what happened is that the entire rhetoric that was built upon against him didn’t stand actually reflect what the pulse on the ground was. People had different moods and different agendas on mind. And they were frustrated with the nexus that they thought was reason behind their miseries. So all this so called appeal to the “logic” or “reason” of the people to see Trump stood for (according to the media houses) and not vote for him had no takers. All those attempts by his followers were seen as hollow and shallow attempts to demean and demonify Trump. And in the final days to the election the shrillness only increased. Each attempt by a new group or a new person to vilify Trump was seen as desperate attempts to keep him out of power. He was the one who could do something, who promised to do something. He was the hero America needed to be great again. In contrast to this Hillary Clinton’s campaign can be seen as an ass saving campaign. She was caught in many hiccups, but managed to balance the possible derailment of her campaign, be it her emails or other things. The very fact that she managed to come to finals bating Sanders, in spite of so many problems itself reeked of crookedness for many. The entire anti-Trump rhetoric, instead of helping her, hurt her. So for his supporters there was no appeal to reason against him as they were already convinced beyond doubt that he is the person, and at the same time attempts to stop him were seen as conspiracies of the old system. The intelligentsia rhetoric was hollow and appeal to reason was a treason.

The Indian Election of 2014 had a similar trend. In this Narendra Modi was the candidate (also right wing). In this case also we see that the appeal to reason seen as a treason. Though he did not promise a wall, but tall promises were nonetheless made. The entire image was manipulated as if he will deliver all the things in a jiffy, when elected. We see similar bashing of the intelligentsia in this case also, the rhetoric also went overboard by calling anyone not agreeing with their tag line as anti-national, which continues till day.

For those particularly in intelligentsia lament at Trump’s victory as “Democracy has lost”, they are missing a very crucial aspect. The election of Trump actually shows the true nature of democracy. It is literally the rule of the people. And if more people think a particular candidate is good for them they will choose him. To claim it as a “Dark day” is to question the democratic process itself. These same people would have been perhaps happy if Hillary Clinton was selected. But then this for me is just changing of the goalposts when you have lost an argument. If you cannot convince people to vote for someone, it is not loss for democracy, rather it is the way it operates. The democratic process cannot remain correct if some candidate wins and problematic when someone else wins, of course under the assumption that these are fair elections, not rigged ones. This for me reflects obliviousness for the obviousness of democracy.

Knowledge: Technical and Scientific

Utility had been deliberately excluded from Aristotelian natural philosophy. Aristotle had nothing against practical knowledge, which he called techne; he simply did not consider it to be the same kind of thing as scientific knowledge, which he called episteme. From techne we have the word technology, which means to us largely the application of scientific knowledge, while from episteme we have the word epistemology, a branch of philosophy that deals with the theory of knowledge, scientific or any other. For Aristotle, however, the difference between techne and episteme was not a difference between application and theory, but was one of sources of knowledge and goals of knowledge. The source of technical knowledge was practical experience and its goal was, roughly speaking, knowing what to do next time. The source of scientific knowledge was reason, and its goal was the  understanding of things through their causes.

–  Stillman Drake, Galileo A Very Short Introduction (p. 4)

A quote from Dennett

I, too, want the world to be a better place. This is my reason for wanting people to understand and accept evolutionary theory: I believe that their salvation may depend on it! How so? By opening their eyes to the dangers of pandemics, degradation of the environment, and loss of biodiversity, and by informing them about some of the foibles of human nature. So isn’t my belief that belief in evolution is the path to salvation a religion? No; there is a major difference. We who love evolution do not honor those whose love of evolution prevents them from thinking clearly and rationally about it! On the contrary, we are particularly critical of those whose misunderstandings and romantic misstatements of these great ideas mislead themselves and others. In our view, there is no safe haven for mystery or incomprehensibility. Yes, there is humility, and awe, and sheer delight, at the glory of the evolutionary landscape, but it is not accompanied by, or in the service of, a willing (let alone thrilling) abandonment of reason. So I feel a moral imperative to spread the word of evolution, but evolution is not my religion. I don’t have a religion.

– Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell (p. 268)

A verse by Rumi

“All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.”  -Rumi

A Piagetian Curriculum?

There are those who think about creating a “Piagetian curriculum” or “Piagetian teaching methods.” But to my mind these phrases and the activities they represent are contradictions in terms. I see Piaget as the theorist of learning without curriculum and the theorist of the kind of learning that happens without deliberate teaching. To turn him into the theorist of a new curriculum is to stand him on his head. – Seymour Papert, Mindstorms

 

Save Firefox!

Once upon a time, there were two major browsers that virtually everyone used: Netscape and Internet Explorer, locked in a death-battle for the future of the Web. They went to enormous lengths to tempt Web publishers to optimize their sites to work best inside their windows, and hoped that users would follow.

Then, a game-changer: the open, nonprofit Mozilla browser spun out of Netscape, with the mission of putting users, not publishers, in charge. Mozilla defaulted to blocking pop-up ads, the scourge of the early Web. It was a step none of the major browsers could afford to take, because publishers were convinced they would go broke without them, and any company whose browser blocked pop-ups by default would alienate the publishers, who’d throw their lot in with the competition.

A little over a decade later, and the world of browsers is unrecognizable: Mozilla turned into Firefox; Internet Explorer turned into Edge, Apple launched Safari, and Google launched Chrome. Every one of them blocks pop-ups by default! Literally none of the dominant browsers from a decade ago are in widespread use today.

Which is not to say that there isn’t competition. There is, and its as fierce as ever, and as ever, it’s a strategic fight to please both publishers and users, whose interests are not always the same. Publishers want to gather more information on users; users want to keep their information private. Publishers want to control users’ browsing and viewing experience; users want to sit in the driver’s seat.

We need competition; we also need diversity. We need the possibility that young, game-changing market entrants might come along. We need that idea to be kept alive, to make sure that all the browsers don’t shift from keeping users happy to just keeping a few giant corporations that dominate the Web happy. Because there’s always pressure to do that, and if all the browsers end up playing that same old game, the users will always lose.

We need more Firefoxes.

We need more browsers that treat their users, rather than publishers, as their customers. It’s the natural cycle of concentration-disruption-renewal that has kept the Web vibrant for nearly 20 years (eons, in web-years).

We may never get another one, though.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), once the force for open standards that kept browsers from locking publishers to their proprietary capabilities, has changed its mission. Since 2013, the organization has provided a forum where today’s dominant browser companies and the dominant entertainment companies can collaborate on a system to let our browsers control our behavior, rather than the other way.

This system, “Encrypted Media Extensions” (EME) uses standards-defined code to funnel video into a proprietary container called a “Content Decryption Module.” For a new browser to support this new video streaming standard — which major studios and cable operators are pushing for — it would have to convince those entertainment companies or one of their partners to let them have a CDM, or this part of the “open” Web would not display in their new browser.

This is the opposite of every W3C standard to date: once, all you needed to do to render content sent by a server was follow the standard, not get permission. If browsers had needed permission to render a page at the launch of Mozilla, the publishers would have frozen out this new, pop-up-blocking upstart. Kiss Firefox goodbye, in other words.

The W3C didn’t have to do this. No copyright law says that making a video gives you the right to tell people who legally watch it how they must configure their equipment. But because of the design of EME, copyright holders will be able to use the law to shut down any new browser that tries to render the video without their permission.

That’s because EME is designed to trigger liability under section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which says that removing a digital lock that controls access to a copyrighted work without permission is an offense, even if the person removing the lock has the right to the content it restricts. In other words, once a video is sent with EME, a new company that unlocks it for its users can be sued, even if the users do nothing illegal with that video.

We proposed that the W3C could protect new browsers by making their members promise not to use the DMCA to attack new entrants in the market, an idea supported by a diverse group of W3C members, but the W3C executive overruled us saying the work would go forward with no safeguards for future competition.

It’s even worse than at first glance. The DMCA isn’t limited to the USA: the US Trade Representative has spread DMCA-like rules to virtually every country that does business with America. Worse still: the DMCA is also routinely used by companies to threaten and silence security researchers who reveal embarrassing defects in their products. The W3C also declined to require its members to protect security researchers who discover flaws in EME, leaving every Web user vulnerable to vulnerabilities whose disclosure can only safely take place if the affected company decides to permit it.

The W3C needs credibility with people who care about the open Web and innovation in order to be viable. They are sensitive to this kind of criticism. We empathize. There are lots of good people working there, people who genuinely, passionately want the Web to stay open to everyone, and to be safe for its users. But the organization made a terrible decision when it opted to provide a home for EME, and an even worse one when it overruled its own members and declined protection for security research and new competitors.

It needs to hear from you now. Please share this post, and spread the word. Help the W3C be the organization it is meant to be.

 

Source: Save Firefox!

Whistleblowing as an act of political resistance

The individuals who make these disclosures feel so strongly about what they have seen that they’re willing to risk their lives and their freedom. They know that we, the people, are ultimately the strongest and most reliable check on the power of government. The insiders at the highest levels of government have extraordinary capability, extraordinary resources, tremendous access to influence, and a monopoly on violence, but in the final calculus there is but one figure that matters: the individual citizen.

And there are more of us than there are of them.

–  Edward Snowden

Designing computer interface

Computers and related devices have to be designed with an understanding that
people with specific tasks in mind will want to use them in a way that is seamless with respect to their everyday work. To do this, those who design these systems need to know how to think in terms of the eventual users’ tasks and how to translate that knowledge into an executable system. But there is a problem with trying to teach the notion of designing computers for people. All designers are people and, most probably, they are users as well. Isn’t it therefore intuitive to design for the user? Why does it need to be taught when we all know what a good interface looks like?

Human Computer Interface

Lists with LaTeX

While writing documents one needs lists. Usually the lists are either numbered or with bullet. The standard enumerate option in LaTeX by default provides Arabic-Hindu numbers for the list.

The standard syntax is as under:

\begin{enumerate}
\item First item
\item Second item
.
.
\end{enumerate}

This will produce a list with Arabic-Hindu numbers with the items at each head.

In case one wanted a list with bullets, we can use the itemize environment.

\begin{itemize}
\item First item
\item Second item
.
.
\end{itemize}

This will produce a list with with bullets
There is yet another environment description which can take user supplied options for list headings.
For example:

\begin{description}
\item[First] First item
\item[Second] Second item
.
.
\end{description}

In this case the descriptors in square brackets after the \item will be used as the item titles. So when I required any alphabetical list, I used to make list in the description environment and put the alphabets/ descriptors manually.

So far so good.

Recently I had to make a list with Roman numerals instead of Arabic ones. The list was fairly long so manual option seemed to be a very un-LaTeX kind of thing to do. Just a little googling and I found a treasury of options that can be used with the standard enumerate environment. This was the enumitem package.

The package provides various options for the enumerate environment like label and its formatting, style, alignment,  indent, vertical and horizontal spacing etc.

The label options that are available are \alph, \Alph, \arabic, \roman and \Roman,
These can be intialised by using

\begin{enumerate}[label=\emph{\alph*})]

After this the regular \item will produce list with alphabets, numbers or roman numerals.

Please see the documentation for more details.

Suppose you have a list which is split in many parts. You can use resume function to continue with numbering left off in the last part of the list. The resume function can be named and you can have different lists to resume.

Main purpose of the educational sector

The main purpose of the health sector is not to provide other sectors with workers in good health. By the same token, the main purpose of the educational sector is not to prepare students to take up an occupation in some other sector of the economy. In all human societies, health and education have an intrinsic value: the ability to enjoy years of good health, like the ability to acquire knowledge and culture, is one of the fundamental purposes of civilization.

via Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century

Book Hunting in Boston – Week 2

Book Hunting in Boston

Week 2

MIT Coop

I went to MIT COOP opposite the MIT Press store to check for any affordable items to carry back home. But there were none. 😦 Most of them were over budget for me. But then I checked their basement for stuff. And there I saw one of the most extensive line up for science books that I have seen. They were not just a minor section in the store which usually is the case, but were the major part.

All the interesting ones lined up in shelves. But sadly no discount and hence no buy 😦

IMG_9077IMG_9079IMG_9081

IMG_9083
Dover at MIT Coop
IMG_9082
Dover at MIT Coop

IMG_9080 IMG_9085

Also they have all the Dover Publications books in print at one place, sorted according authors. Wow! Too many for me to handle. 😀 But for display only for me did not buy anything. But sure was overwhelming to look at them, all at the same place.

Boston Public Library

This was unplanned for. We were just roaming around the downtown area. And came out near the Boston Public Library established in 1852. The outside decoration is in form of the various authors in all fields of study. A few glimpses of the library

IMG_9221

Inscriptions on the building

McKim chose to have monumental inscriptions, similar to those found on basilicas and monuments in ancient Rome, in the entablature on each of the main building’s three façades. On the south is inscribed:

MDCCCLII • FOUNDED THROUGH THE MUNIFICENCE AND PUBLIC SPIRIT OF CITIZENS“;

on the east:

THE PUBLIC LIBRARY OF THE CITY OF BOSTON • BUILT BY THE PEOPLE AND DEDICATED TO THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING • A.D. MDCCCLXXXVIII“;

and on the north:

THE COMMONWEALTH REQUIRES THE EDUCATION OF THE PEOPLE AS THE SAFEGUARD OF ORDER AND LIBERTY“.

Another inscription, above the keystone of the central entrance, proclaims:

FREE TO ALL“.

IMG_9226

Below each second-story arched window on the three façades are inscribed lists of the names of great historical writers, artists, scientists, philosophers, and statesmen.

 

Across the street from the central entrance to the library is a twentieth-century monument to the Lebanese-born poet and philosopher Kahlil Gibran who as a young immigrant educated himself in the Boston Public Library. The monument’s inscription responds to the McKim building reading

IT WAS IN MY HEART TO HELP A LITTLE, BECAUSE I WAS HELPED MUCH“.

The text is excerpted from a letter enclosed with Gibran’s generous bequest to the library.

The quote from Gibran definitely resonates with the experience that I have had with Internet Archive and GP (now sadly dead).

I lament that I did not go inside the library for the lack of time 😦

Barnes & Noble, Prudential Tower

This was again unplanned for. We went to visit to Prudential Tower, the store just comes out as soon as you enter. Since I had heard about it, I did go in. They had some wonderful collections of books, but I did not get anything from there.

IMG_9264

 

Rodney Book Store

Now this one was on the cards as per the original recommended list. I visited this one just before the day of departure. I could not get a photo of the entrance but only of the inside. The store is well stocked and well categorised.

IMG_9311 IMG_9314 IMG_9317 IMG_9323 IMG_9324 IMG_9325 IMG_9326 IMG_9327

I wish I had more time at this store

 

IMG_0504

I got the above books at the store. With this one on M. C. Escher by Escher collection of classics is almost complete.

 

The Worst Get to the Top

Yes, you read that correctly: democratic government invariably leads to the rule by “demagogues” who manipulate the most immoral segments of society.

The core of this immoral coalition consists of “the lowest common denominator” – the “‘mass[es]’ in the derogatory sense of the term.” The masses consist of the least “educated” and least “intelligent” driven by “primitive instincts.”

The unethical leaders add to this core the “docile and gullible.” They are easily manipulated by propaganda that creates “a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently.”

Their “passions and emotions are readily aroused” by demagogues “who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party.”

The third component of the totalitarian troika is the “most important negative element.” These are the murderous bigots motivated by “hatred of an enemy … the envy of those better off.”

via Bill Black: How Hayek Helped the Worst Get to the Top.

On Design

Design is both the disruptor and being disrupted. It’s disrupting markets, organizations, and relationships, and forcing us to rethink how we live. The discipline of design is also experiencing tremendous growth and change, largely influenced by economic and technology factors. No longer an afterthought, design is now an essential part of a product, and it may even be the most important part of a product’s value.

Source: Experience design is shaping our future – O’Reilly Radar

Antilibrary of Umberto Eco

The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

Black Swan – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I have had a similar experience about myown book collection. People expect that if you have books then you must have read them. But this is exactly what I hold the books for, a reference tool for further knowledge. And then they have a beautiful word in Japanese which describes the spirit in which you buy more unread books.

Tsundoku:buying books and not reading them; letting books pile up on shelves floors or nightstands

Faking Feedback

How to score brownie points over one’s opponents?

Or

How much lower can one stoop academically?

Disclaimer: This story has a no particular names, feel free to fill in what you like. This is not a work of fiction.

This is a story that I heard recently. Though the events mentioned in the story are almost 2 decades old. The story is set circa 1996. The
story is an esteemed academic institution in the state of UP.

In this institute in a particular department, among many other faculties there were two protagonists of our story. For the sake of keeping a track of their activities let us call them X and Y. Now as it happens in many academic institutes, and in between many academics, X and Y did not go along very well. Added to that they say that X was a bit eccentric to put it mildly and a crackpot to put it okayishly. Less said about Y is better. It would be rather revealed by actions. They would fight bitterly and did not see each other in a good light. Now, it so happens that in this institute at end of the semester the students are given feedback forms for each of the courses that they take. For this purpose another faculty member distributes the forms on the last day of the course. These forms are collected, sealed and given to the HoD for evaluation. Based on the feedback the HoD calls the faculty member to discuss issues worth discussing. This entire process is supposedly confidential and the discussion happens after the exams are over.

Now it so happened that in this fateful year, Y went on the last day of X’s class to give the feedback form to the students. The forms were duly collected, sealed and given to the HoD. Now comes the interesting part of the story. When the HoD started to read the feedback forms, he noticed that a few of them were a bit too harsh and nasty. Now it so turns out that though X was a bit eccentric, but was quite popular with the students. So this naturally created a doubt in the HoDs mind. Why only this year the students have given a bad review of X?

So the HoD glanced through the feedback forms which were a bit too negative. And guess what! He discovered that the handwriting in all of them was uncannily similar. How can different students writing negative feedback have all the same handwriting? Well one explanation is that they all conspired to do so. Practicing for hours on end to make sure all of their handwriting are similar! But an easier one is that a single person must have written all these negative reviews! Keeping this in mind the HoD compared these negative feedback forms with the handwriting of people he knew. And then guess what it matched the handwriting of someone from his department!

Now you will get 10/10 points if you have already guessed what happened next. It so turned out that the handwriting on the negative feedback sheets matched that of Y.  After this Y was summoned by the HoD to explain this uncanny resemblance between the handwritings. Well Y did not have much of an answer, even if any answer was given, it is not known to us. Perhaps Y will remember this episode for life. So after this Y was punished for faking student feedback form. This perhaps would be unique charge against a faculty in a premier institute. The punishment was of banishment from the department for one full semester. When he came back he was super embarrassed due to this. Or as they would put in Hindi किसी को मु़ह दिखाने लायक नही राहा

And it so happened that this episode was followed by exit of Y from this institute a few years later. It is said that in the new institute that Y joined he continued with his old ways of deceit and treachery, and of cheap tactics. The only difference being that there was no one here to challenge Y and his cheap ways. The sad part is that this continued for over a decade and Y was able to form an empire at the new institute. But then the Indian academia has many such people.

Reflecting on this I think how much lower can one fall academically to score brownie points over one’s opponents? On another hand I feel like laughing at botched up attempts to do this, reminds me of Rowan Atkinson’s Black Adder.

What kind of person would indulge in this behavior? Is such a person fit for any confidential work? And why should any academic institute harbour such a person?

 

This story needs to be spread, told and retold for Y is still out there…

Sweet (Potato) Harvest

A couple of years back I shifted to a flat. We did not have a single plant in our house. So we brought a couple of pots in which to put some plants. We started with “money plant” but it seemed it did notlike growing in our window. We tried many other things but none survived. All of them would die, perhaps due to lack of sunlight or some infestation.

It so turned out that the sweet potato is not that sweet after all. It has a low GI (glycemic index). Some of the sweet potatoes that we had brought, and kept in the corner developed some really cool purple coloured shoots. We then thought of planting these and see. And grow they did. The shoots grew at an astounding rate, as if they were on some sort of steroids. Withinn a week they scaled the height of the window (~ 5 ft.). We had to manage them horizontally afterwards. But this was it, the plants became very dense and we planted some more. So we had a nice vine over the window. We never bothered to see if they
had grown any roots that we could eat. It was more used like an ornamental plant.

When we shifted to our current home we brought the pot with us. For travel, we had cut all the branches and left the root intact. But after coming the new house, where we had access to the sunlight. The plant did not grow, it died. That is when we planted some new shoots in the pot, two of them. And then forgot about them. We water them daily but, it was in a rather inaccessible corner of the balcony so, we could not look at it properly.

It so happened one day I noticed something strange. Something (most probably a bird) had dug out the soil in that pot and uncovered what was unmistakably surface of a sweet potato. There were beak like marks on the surface. It was like a treasure was exposed. I promptly covered the exposed area with extra soil. It was then that I noticed that the plant had grown a lot but since its branches were hanging low and at an angle than hid it from us, we had not seen them.

So, this is the background. Yesterday, being a Sunday we decided to take out the potatoes out. So what follows is a picture essay of uncovering the harvest of the sweet potatoes.

The Plant with its leaves.

01-complete-plant

Put a paper on the floor to collect the soil.

 

02-plant-with-newspaper

 

Start the digging. Felt like a forager!

 

03-digging-starts

 

First sweet glimpse!

 

04-first-look

And they are out!

 

05-and-out

With the roots removed.

 

06-roots-removed

 

Washed!

07-washed

 

Portrait shot No. 1

 

08-washed-2

 

Portrait Shot No. 2

 

08-washed-3

 

Nicely cut and washed!

 

09-cut-1

 

Removing the extra water.

 

10-cut-2

In the fry pan!

 

11-in-the-pan

 

And with salt and pepper!

 

12-sweet-pepper-salt

 

That’s it for now folks!

Why I am an Atheist

Beliefs make it easier to go through hardships, even make them pleasant.

You go against popular feelings; you criticise a hero, a great man who is generally believed to be above criticism. What happens? No one will answer your arguments in a rational way; rather you will be considered vainglorious. Its reason is mental insipidity. Merciless criticism and independent thinking are the two necessary traits of revolutionary thinking. As Mahatmaji is great, he is above criticism; as he has risen above, all that he says in the field of politics, religion, Ethics is right. You agree or not, it is binding upon you to take it as truth. This is not constructive thinking. We do not take a leap forward; we go many steps back.

It is necessary for every person who stands for progress to criticise every tenet of old beliefs. Item by item he has to challenge the efficacy of old faith. He has to analyse and understand all the details. If after rigorous reasoning, one is led to believe in any theory of philosophy, his faith is appreciated. His reasoning may be mistaken and even fallacious. But there is chance that he will be corrected because Reason is the guiding principle of his life. But belief, I should say blind belief is disastrous. It deprives a man of his understanding power and makes him reactionary.

Open your eyes and see millions of people dying of hunger in slums and huts dirtier than the grim dungeons of prisons; just see the labourers patiently or say apathetically while the rich vampires suck their blood; bring to mind the wastage of human energy that will make a man with a little common sense shiver in horror. Just observe rich nations throwing their surplus produce into the sea instead of distributing it among the needy and deprived. There are palaces of kings built upon the foundations laid with human bones. Let them see all this and say “All is well in God’s Kingdom.” Why so? This is my question.

One of my friends asked me to pray. When informed of my atheism, he said, “When your last days come, you will begin to believe.” I said, “No, dear sir, Never shall it happen. I consider it to be an act of degradation and demoralisation. For such petty selfish motives, I shall never pray.” Reader and friends, is it vanity? If it is, I stand for it.

via Why I am an Atheist.

Academia Misfitya

1 The problems of academic misfits
===================================

Many things are said which might require a background without
which they may appear to be incoherent, or is it that they are
actually incoherent and background is not required at all?
Maybe I should less drink coffee, otherwise such sense making
non-stuff comes of me out ….

Miserable lives, pathetic people:

1
——

What happens when you get stuck up with a job that you do not like,
but have to do it because you could not get to the place you wanted
to be in? At times you feel that the place doesn’t deserve you. You
are over-smart for the place. The place is meant for people who are
far behind you in the evolutionary seqeuence. This is the feeling
that many people in my working place share. They think that they
are smart, and are stuck up at this place because of some bad
luck. Their heart doesn’t lie in the work that they are doing, but
somewhere else. So what do they do to overcome this personal
failure of theirs? They make an attempt to make other people’s
likfe miserable, just as their own is. I am particularly using the
word attempt, as it does not succeed. This just shows the
pathological state of mind they are in. Their personal failure of
not being able to get into a place where they think their
intelligence might be in good company, is displayed in the malice
they carry around with their persona.

2
——

They would take up smallest issues and make mountains out it. Hold
a personal vendetta against the ones they dislike. This comes to
fore in public meetings where their pathetic attempts to undermine
other people’s work. So pathetic are their attempts that one can
only but laugh at their incompetence even in doing this. This
reminds of the series of Rowan Atkinson called The Black Adder. Its
dark comedy all around. They should forget about getting to their
dream place with this kind of incompetence. Most of them are
rejects from places of so called “higher intelliegence” who by hook
or crook somehow found their way in this space. Others tell you
that their know this person, or is related to that person /who/ is
at this high position. Maybe they all conspired to get them
here. They were so incompetent that even such people in high
position could not get them to their dream places. And what is the
result? They are perpetually under cloud of failure, and hence they
want to see others also fail. How can others succeed when they, the
intelligent beings of the lot, have failed?

3
——

People who have realized this truth behind their hollow lives give
them the most fear. Because they know these people are not going to
be intimidated by the false aura of intelligence they carry around
them. These people can see through them for what they are. They do
not give them the false respect that they force their juniors and
people working under them to give them. “Call me Sir!” they say, as
if the British crown has knighted them. And they are offended deeply
if they are not called so. This behaviour is anti-academic, if
nothing else. In other places I have seen even the most senior most
scientists being called by their first names. But these “academic
misfits” think otherwise, to boost their fragile self-ego they make
the people under them give them respect forcibly. This perhaps
gives them a 10 footer.

4
——

The very fact that they were not able to get to a place which they
so much desired, but instead their getting into a ‘popular’ place
makes them think that all around them are like that. For jandiced
people the whole world appears with a yellowish tint. So it is with
this people suffering from academia misfitia. They think they being
so much intelligent and superior to others are stuck here, /hence/
the other lesser mortals must also be so. So they think that all
others in such a place are also misfits, and perhaps of a worse
kind (we yet don’t even have a PhD!).

5
——

To justify their presence in a place where they do not belong what
do they do? They change the goals of the place so that they will
somehow fit in the new goals. This is the easiest thing to do. When
facts are against you, you change the standards of
measurement. This is much like what Rutherford had said about
science: “Science is what scientists do.” So the goal of a place is
the work that people there do. This way they can justify whatever
work that they do, no matter whether it fits the agenda of the
place or not. But what do they do when you point out that this does
not fit into the original agendas? They know they cannot get any
higher in academia, if they could they would not be here. So they
adapt a time tested approach of being a douchebag. If you cannot
rise above others, make others sink. Make their work look as if it
is nothing, as /compared/ to theirs. Attack them in public seminars
to make them look like fools in front of the people. But even this
attempt ends in failure. How much failure one can take? Then they
claim that theirs is a ‘serious’ kind of work and any other work
which they do not do is a ‘popular’ kind of work, not worthy of
anything. And academics is serious work, not popular. If it is so
why are they in a place where this happens? This is because they
are themselves not good enough for serious work, perhaps only
semi-serious work, hence they are stuck here.

6
——
And what is the nature of ‘serious’ work that they take pride in?
It is the pinnacle of a huge commercial industry, where they are
basking in lights given off from others. There is a joke which is
similar to this situation. A scientist, one by one plucks of all
the legs of a cockroach and yells it to after pulling out one
leg. Initially the cockroach tries to run with the remaining legs,
but after last leg is removed it can no longer run. The scientist
concludes that the cockroach cannot hear when all the legs are
removed. This joke is related to much of the ‘(semi?)-serious’ work
by the misfits. They do the first error in statistics, confusing
correlation with causality (no wonder they are stuck here). They
think that it is their final leg pulling which produces the
required results and this they get published in the ever breaking
news hungry pop-media! All the false pride that they carry and
respect that they get is due to the position they got themselves in
by hook or by crook. It is this position as gatekeepers of the last
leg, they have developed the pathetic arrogance that they have.

There is much to say about these matters, but that will be another
post….

Gandhi on Textbooks

M. K. Gandhi

Harijan Vol VII, No. 31 pg. 1, 9 September 1939

Text Books

The craze for ever-changing text books is hardly a healthy sign from
the educational standpoint. If text books are treated as a vehicle for
education, the living word of the teacher has very little value. A
teacher who teaches from text books does not impart originality to his
pupils. He himself becomes a slave of the text books and has no
opportunity or occasion to be original. It therefore seems that the
less text books there are the better it is for the teacher and his
pupils. Text books seem to have become an article of commerce. Authors
and publishers who make writing and publishing a means of making money
are interested in frequent change of text books. In many cases
teachers and examiners are themselves authors of text books. It is
naturally to their interest to have their books sold. The selection
board is again naturally composed of such people. And so the vicious
circle becomes complete. And it becomes very difficult for parents to
find money for new books every year. It is a pathetic sight to see
boys and girls going to school loaded with books which they are ill
able to carry. The whole system requires to be thoroughly
examined. The commercial spirit needs to be entirely eliminated and
the question approached in the interest of the scholars. It will then
probably be found that 75 per cent of the text books will have to be
consigned to scrap-heap. If I had it my way, I would have books
largely as aids to teachers rather than for the scholars. Such
textbooks as are found to be absolutely necessary for the scholars
should circulate among them for a number of years os that the cost can
be easily borne by middle class families. The first step in this
direction is perhaps for the State to won and organize the printing
and publishing of text books. This will act as an automatic check on
their unnecessary multiplication.

Citation inside a Caption – LaTeX

Recently while writing my thesis, I came across a strange error while compiling with LaTeX. The problem arose when I gave a cite command inside a caption environment. The caption was for a figure. For example

\caption{This is the caption for a figure. From  \cite{friend2005}}

This gave the following error:


! Argument of \Hy@tempa has an extra }.
<inserted text>
\par
l.89 ...sity estimate. From  \cite{friend2005}}

?
Runaway argument?
\@captype {\@firstoftwo {\@ifstar {\HAR@acite }{\HAR@fcite }}}\def \reserved@b
\ETC.
! Paragraph ended before \Hy@tempa was complete.
<to be read again>
\par
l.89 …sity estimate. From  \cite{friend2005}}

?

A little googling around I found this site which solved the problem in a second.

So the command should read like:


\caption{This is the caption for a figure. From  \protect\cite{friend2005}}

And the problem is solved. In case you are wondering what \protect does look here.

Anonymity and community in the age of RTI

(Draft under work.)

The year 2005 was a significant event in the history of India, as it
saw the introduction of bill for Right to Information. Under this
act any person could request data from government departments
pertaining to issues of interest. This was seen as first step
towards transparency of government of India, and indeed it was. The
RTI act was a weapon in hands of activists, who could now get the
required information officially. What was important also was that
there was a timeline which had to be adhered to while replying to
the RTI query. The information gathered from the various RTI queries
which individuals across the country empowered the citizens about
their rights regarding many issues. Also equally importantly RTI was
a tool for exposing the corruption running rampant in various
government departments. A RTI query could expose the irregularities
and bypassing of rules and regulations, leading to
corruption. There are many famous cases for their expose of big
names and massive corruption which were brought to light. (Some
examples?)

Some people became what are now known as RTI activists. The RTI
activists were whistleblowers of the RTI age. These activists
exposed many scams at local and national levels. Such expose make
the people involved very uncomfortable. And as it happens in many
cases the people involved are very powerful and would not stop at
anything to attain their goals. In many such cases the RTI activists
were “easy” targets. By using the four-fold approach of /saam/,
/daam/, /dand/ and finally /bhed/ those in trouble try to stop the RTI
activists. Unfortunately in many cases, it turns out the activists
were killed as a result of their whistleblowing acts. (Give
examples)

What the RTI activists in various parts lack is a safety net, by
this I mean they lack support from people with similar
interests. They also lack, in a sense, a feeling of community who
will stand by them in case of such bad incidents. What can be done
for them? What kind of mechanism can result in their protection?
There was a proposed whistleblower bill, which if enacted will
provide security to such people. But the bill was not passed. Is
there any other option? Is there a way in which people can still ask
for information under RTI, without revealing their identity, so that
they cannot be “targetted” as whistleblowers. Is there a way in
which despite being anonymous there is a sense of community among
the activists of the RTI? It seems there can be an alternative way in
which we the people can provide a sense of anonymity and at the same
time that of a community to the RTI activists. What follows is
such a proposal which will try to cover these fundamental issues.

The proposal is to setup a front, which for lack of a name I would
call a /collective/ for now, which will mask those requesting RTI
from various government departments. The activists can send their
queries to the government departments through this collective. This
collective will in a sense create a buffer between activists and the
respective government departments, and associated problematic
elements. Since the RTI queries will be sent through this
collective, there will be sense of anonymity for the RTI activists,
as their names wouldn’t come under spotlight as in the earlier
case. One can also have a way in which the activist need not reveal
their identity to collective, that is we should also allow for
anonymous requests for queries. Some may point out that this might
be abused, but we have to give in this possibility hoping that pros
will outnumber the cons. Thus at no point we would have any data
regarding the identity of the applicant, hence we will not be able
to reveal it, when asked. This as will be pointed out can be abused,
but Thus the collective will form a mask for all the RTI
requests. Of coure people who want their name displayed for their
work, will be proud public faces of the collective. It would be much
more difficult to subdue or silence or attack the collective as it
would not be single point contact, but rather a distributed system.

So what do the activists gain by submitting to the collective,
apart from the anonymity. The collective will have a policy that
all the data that it receives from these RTI queries, will be put
up in public domain. This will in turn create a public archive of
information which will be accessible to anyone. Such a archive will
address many issues, like redundancy in filing of RTI queries, or
making the future RTI queries much more pointed and making material
available for researchers.

Such is a very rough proposal for the formation of the
collective. Suggestions and refinements in the proposal and
possible way of execution of this collective are needed.

Edward Snowden’s Moral Courage

I have been to war. I have seen physical courage. But this kind of courage is not moral courage. Very few of even the bravest warriors have moral courage. For moral courage means to defy the crowd, to stand up as a solitary individual, to shun the intoxicating embrace of comradeship, to be disobedient to authority, even at the risk of your life, for a higher principle. And with moral courage comes persecution.

via Common Dreams.

Equity Over Excellence

There is an interesting piece in The Atlantic by Sergey Ivanov on the education system in Finland. Though the article is written from a viewpoint of an American, there are a lot of take home points for everyone and particularly for India. In this post I am trying to make sense of this article from an Indian standpoint. Through out the post if you just insert India for America (which I have done at places), it at once catches. For the problems Indians are facing are also the problems of the Americans, as we have more or less tried to follow their model of education. The basic theme that underlies the article
is this:

The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because 
 it values equality more than excellence.

To many in the Indian context who believe that excellence must be given priority over equity this might be surprising. Surprising because it undermines a basic premise in their logic: that to excel in science and technology the only way is to promote excellence. In India there have been two distinct approaches to education, there is a clear stratification of the students based on standardized tests, and it is these tests which filter out students. But as the Finnish experience shows us that this need not be the case.

The newly found fame for Finland’s educational system comes after excellence of their students in the PISA scores since 2000. This seems paradoxical when we learn more about the educational system. The tried and trusted formulae of instructionism and rote-learning, which many people swear by, have almost no place there. The Finnish educational system seems like an educational philosophers utopian materialized in the real world.

To understand why it is working, the way it is, Indians will have to give away their long cherished beliefs about educational system. This would make the government more accountable towards education of the people. This is not just cosmetic school reform, but a revamping of the complete educational philosophy with which we are running the show.

One of the most intriguing (at least for me) things to notice is:

“Oh,” he mentioned at one point, “and there are no private schools in
Finland.”

This notion may seem difficult for an American (Indian?) to digest, but it’s true. Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K or a Ph.D.

(emphasis added)

Now, this is interesting. What can we say about India? In fact over the years there has been general trend that we are seeing, that the number of private schools is increasing. And then there are branded schools which are spreading their networks across the country. Not to tell that they charge really hefty fees, and are meant for the elite. And so is the case with the colleges, each professional degree has a price tag, only people who can afford it, get those degrees. The haves not, the non-elites, who are mostly from the deprived classes, remain with almost no education. The government keeps on talking about reaching out to people, and by allowing the private schools colleges to exist, it is actually preventing people from joining in. Another aspect about this is that since there are alternatives to the government schools, the government schools themselves have no pressure to perform. And as any intelligent parents will tell you, it is better to put your child in a private school than a government one. Most of the parents who are in a financial position to put their children in private schools, do so.

How many parents do you know who have enrolled their children in government schools, even when they can afford private schools?

There was yet another interesting piece If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person in which the author makes a case that it is parents who are driving the change of declining government schools. If the educated parents make a sustained effort of challenging and helping government schools to improve, they will surely improve. The parents adopt the path of least effort, and send their children to private schools, which are supposed to be better. This automatically creates a class divide without asking.

Even among the private schools there is an hierarchy. There are international schools, convent schools etc. So the social stratification that exists, is just reflected in the school system. Seen from this perspective, one can understand why are the government schools neglected. They are neglected because the people who are influential and who are amongst the rich and powerful are never affected by the dismal state of the government schools. They have an alternate avenue for their children where these schools never come into picture.

There is another thing that is striking in the Indian system, that is of the coaching classes. I do not know if they are present in Finland or even anywhere in the world. But in India, the coaching classes have a complete parallel system of cracking the educational system. The amount money that the coaching classes do attract must be comparable to the amount Government of India spends on education. This is another avenue where the class divide comes in. Only people with enough finances can afford to send their children to the best coaching classes. But the more fundamental question to ask is:

Why do coaching classes exist in the first place?

The answer to this question is not easy and it related closely to the way in which Indians look at education and its practices. The coaching classes exist because there is a demand for them. And what do coaching classes achieve. Most of the coaching classes are aimed at helping students crack some standardized test or the other. But why do you need standardized tests? Some of the rhetorical questions that one might ask against this question are:

From his (Sasi’s) point of view, Americans (Indians) are consistently obsessed
with certain questions:

+ How can you keep track of students’ performance if you don’t test
them constantly?
+ How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad
teachers or merit pay for good teachers?
+ How do you foster competition and engage the private sector?
+ How do you provide school choice?

The answers Finland provides seem to run counter to just about everything America’s (India’s) school reformers are trying to do. For example the introduction of CCE or Continuous and Comprehensive Examination introduced as part of NCF 2005 is one such reform. Similarly we have incentives in forms of awards for best teachers, and of course the best students get rewards like getting admission to the best colleges. Their parents are proud, schools are proud, and their coaching classes are also proud. This can be seen by the number of advertisements the coaching classes put up. But all the exams like IIT-JEE, AIEEE, Medical Exams, Olympiads, etc. are standardized tests. These are the parameters of excellence in the country. Similar tests are also found in the US, like GRE, TOEFL, SAT etc. One would assume the standardized tests in Finland would be of very great quality, but in reality they don’t exist there.

For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what’s called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.

The very idea of standardized tests emerged in the shadow of the Second World War. The mass recruitment of troops required a mass approach, which resulted in production of tests. In his book The Tyranny of Testing physicist Banesh Hoffman, criticises the standardized tests that were prevalent in the US, and takes to task the leading makers of these tests on the fundamental premise of their objectivity. Similarly one can, question the fundamentals of the standardized tests in the country.

Can any standardized test be really objective?

Personally, I do not think so. None of the standardized tests, take into account multiple factors that a student has skills in. These tests make the process of filtering students easier for the administrators. But do they help students at all (except for getting admission to a desired institute)? Do they really test the understanding of the subject matter? Do they take into account various social factors that is part of the mileu of the students? As Banesh Hoffman says the only thing objective about these tests is that once, the students fills in the answer sheet, the grading is objective. But why is that the teachers who are actually teaching the students cannot test them? Why do we need standardized tests to test the students?

And here comes in the idea of academic flexibility in the schools. In India even most university department do not have academic flexibility. There is a central committee which decides, what is to be taught and a committee sets a test with which we grade the students. This creates a definite goal in form of “completing the syllabus” for the teachers. This is a malice which pervades the educational system of India from primary schools to university departments. The teachers are in a race to reach the finish line of the syllabus, because if they do not, the students might face questions which they were not taught.

Though the teacher is the representative of the entire educational system in the classroom, they are nothing more than, to use a term by Krishna Kumar, “meek dictators” in the classroom. The real dictators are adminitrators and decision makers sitting at the top of the educational system. This perhaps is a colonial mentality which has been deeply embodied in the Indian psyche. But in Finland what happens:

Instead, the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.

People say that then the teachers cannot be trusted that they will grade their students correctly. So how will they be held accountable?

As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish,” he later told
an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”

For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master’s degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal’s responsibility to notice and deal with it.

This is where the responsibility of the Government comes in. Goverment slowly is trying to distance itself from its role in providing education to all its citizens. But if teachers are themselves left unsatisfied both monetarily and ideologically??, what results one can
expect. In this way the Government is indirectly encouraging the private schools and coaching classes, and thus making the class divide even more striking.

And while Americans (Indians) love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from Finnish writer named Samuli Paronen: “Real winners do not compete.” It’s hard to think of a more un-American (Indian) idea, but when it comes to education, Finland’s success shows that the Finnish attitude might have merits. There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.

Compare this with the Indian attitude. Competition seems to be the key to everything and especially education. Where does collaboration of
cooperation enter in Indian educational scenario?

Finally, in Finland, school choice is noticeably not a priority, nor is engaging the private sector at all. Which brings us back to the silence after Sahlberg’s comment at the Dwight School that schools like Dwight don’t exist in Finland.

“Here in America (India), parents can choose to take their kids to private schools. It’s the same idea of a marketplace that applies to, say, shops. Schools are a shop and parents can buy what ever they want. In Finland parents can also choose. But the options are all the same.”

And in India there are coaching classes which prepare students to get into better coaching classes. With both private schools and the coaching class industry around the education and related services have been commercialised to furthest extent possible. This just works in the favour of the already existing class divide. Parents do choose best for their children, and thus do perpetuate the divide as they have no other choices.

Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.

This is the state of the educational system in India now. And with the over emphasis on the excellence part which addresses a small set of mostly elite students, the goal should be creating equal opportunities for equity. The idea of equity in the academic circles is unfortunately equated with that of sub-standard or below average. There are people who will tell you, that “Look, there are bright students, and they need special coaching.” The government has to spend the money of bright students, so as to make the country excel in education. This is done at the expense of the average students. One may ask the question, how in the first place do you know a student is bright? The answer comes from scores of the standardized tests, which are the root cause of many problems that the educational system in India is facing now. If one is serious about changing the educational scenario in the country this has to be addressed. Though there are champions of the standardized tests, in India as in the US of Amerika, they are the ones whose existence is based on such tests. Without these tests their existence becomes meaningless. It will certainly increase the workload of lot many people a lot many times. But the problems of magnitude of changing educational system in India is no mean problem and will require solutions of these magnitudes.

Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to
learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location.

In the Indian scenario this seems to have been forgotten. And one of the main reasons for this is the presence of private schools and coaching classes where parents can shop for education.

Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.

This particular quote is exactly opposite of what the Indian
educational system does by promoting academic excellence over equity.
And this also relates to the qualities that Indians cherish. If good
education is equated with chances of making good money, then we know
where we are wrong. With private schools and coaching classes the
education of a student becomes a balance sheet, which will be brought
to green from red by the money that student will make after
completing education.

In the Finnish view, as Sahlberg describes it, this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with
the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student
guidance.

In case of India we have seen implementation of the mid-day meal scheme. But does it extend to the other domains?

In fact, since academic excellence wasn’t a particular priority on the Finnish to-do list, when Finland’s students scored so high on the
first PISA survey in 2001, many Finns thought the results must be a mistake. But subsequent PISA tests confirmed that Finland — unlike,
say, very similar countries such as Norway — was producing academic excellence through its particular policy focus on equity.

And with so much emphasis on coming on top of the class in India, we are getting what we are sowing. Surveys will tell you that students,
including even those from the best private schools in the country do fail in simple evaluation. But is this unexpected? If the entire
focus of the educational system is to pass standardized tests, why should we expect our students to be better in something else?

That this point is almost always ignored or brushed aside in the U.S. (India) seems especially poignant at the moment, after the financial crisis and Occupy Wall Street movement have brought the problems of inequality in America into such sharp focus. The chasm between those who can afford $35,000 in tuition per child per year — or even just the price of a house in a good public school district — and the other “99 percent” is painfully plain to see.

Though India is yet to undergo Occupy BSE protests, it is not long before this happens.

Some people may point out that Finland is a developed nation. It is much more homogeneous as compared to India. Here it might become more complicated than in the US, but the central argument should hold through.

Yet Sahlberg doesn’t think that questions of size or homogeneity should give Americans (Indians) reason to dismiss the Finnish example. Finland is a relatively homogeneous country — as of 2010, just 4.6 percent of Finnish residents had been born in another country, compared with 12.7 percent in the United States. But the number of foreign-born residents in Finland doubled during the decade leading up to 2010, and the country didn’t lose its edge in education. Immigrants tended to concentrate in certain areas, causing some schools to become much more mixed than others, yet there has not been much change in the remarkable lack of variation between Finnish schools in the PISA surveys across the same period.

The social conditions in India do not match those in Finland. We have many factors like, caste and religion, which do strongly affect our educational policies in practice, if not in theory. So is this comparison valid? But comparing Finland with an country whose demographics are similar, namely Norway, we find different results. Which shows it is the educational policy which determines the outcome, and not the demographics.

Like Finland, Norway is small and not especially diverse overall, but unlike Finland it has taken an approach to education that is more American than Finnish. The result? Mediocre performance in the PISA survey. Educational policy, Abrams suggests, is probably more important to the success of a country’s school system than the nation’s size or ethnic makeup.

And time and again it is said that India does not have enough money to spend on its enormous population. Looking at the amount of GDP that is spent on education India ranks spends 3.1% of GDP on education (2006), while the US spends 5.5% (2007) and Finland 5.9% (2007). A more updated list shows this hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. A look at the graph below from the World Bank Data on these matters makes the picture clear. Though Norway spends more than Finland on education, the results are poor. So if we assume that this is the control then it clearly shows it is not the amount of money you spend or your socio-economic status of the people that matter. What matters most is the way in which you have planned for education and its spending.

gdp-educationPeople tell you that most problems in Indian education system will go away if we have enough teachers! But why are not there enough teachers one may ask? Isn’t it funny that in a country which has second largest population in the world, we do not have enough government teachers? It is surely not a problem of human resources, but of will, both political and social. We do not want to spend more on education, and yet we expect the things to be better. And somehow government is willing to spend on private partners for education, a sort of outsourcing if you want. And with more and more Public Private Partnerships for education, government is just abdicating its responsibility, in the field of education as in other fields.

Finland’s experience suggests that to win at that game, a country has to prepare not just some of its population well, but all of its population well, for the new economy. To possess some of the best schools in the world might still not be good enough if there are children being left behind.

Problem in India is manifold.

“Finland’s dream was that we want to have a good public education for every child regardless of where they go to school or what kind of families they come from, and many even in Finland said it couldn’t be done.”

Clearly, many were wrong. It is possible to create equality. And perhaps even more important — as a challenge to the American (Indian) way of thinking about education reform — Finland’s experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity.

(emphasis added)

The problem facing education in America (India) isn’t the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America (India) needs to be more competitive abroad.

Most of us think that utopian ideas are not practicable. The talk about equity in education is essentially seen with that attitude. But the Finland example has just shown us that this is possible. Though it is definitely not to say that we blindly follow that model. But it seems that utopian things are possible, just that we will have to give up on long cherished notions of what we consider excellence as.

Latex Tufte class in org-mode

Edward Tufte is known for graphical excellence in his famous books. Some enthusiasts combined his design principles into LaTeX and you have the tufte-book and tufte-handout classes for excellence in typesetting. This has support for sidenotes, margin figures, full width figures etc.

Now, since I have shifted to org-mode on Emacs for most of my writing work including that of LaTeX, it was but natural to take this in org-mode output.

For this a small addition to your .emacs file and you are done. Of course after installing the dependencies. I also came to know about another nice package nicefrac for using in the documents.

For Fedora #yum install texlive-tufte-latex should do the job. Also some font problems may arise which can be solved by running updmap and enabling the needed font.

 ;; tufte-book class for writing classy books
(require 'org-latex) 
(add-to-list 'org-export-latex-classes
'("tuftebook"
"\\documentclass{tufte-book}\n
\\usepackage{color}
\\usepackage{amssymb}
\\usepackage{gensymb}
\\usepackage{nicefrac}
\\usepackage{units}"
("\\section{%s}" . "\\section*{%s}")
("\\subsection{%s}" . "\\subsection*{%s}")
("\\paragraph{%s}" . "\\paragraph*{%s}")
("\\subparagraph{%s}" . "\\subparagraph*{%s}")))

 ;; tufte-handout class for writing classy handouts and papers
(require 'org-latex) 
(add-to-list 'org-export-latex-classes
'("tuftehandout"
"\\documentclass{tufte-handout}
\\usepackage{color}
\\usepackage{amssymb}
\\usepackage{amsmath}
\\usepackage{gensymb}
\\usepackage{nicefrac}
\\usepackage{units}"
("\\section{%s}" . "\\section*{%s}")
("\\subsection{%s}" . "\\subsection*{%s}")
("\\paragraph{%s}" . "\\paragraph*{%s}")
("\\subparagraph{%s}" . "\\subparagraph*{%s}")))

Once you have added these to .emacs, in the org-mode you have to define #LaTeX_CLASS: tuftehandout or #LaTeX_CLASS: tuftebook to invoke this style in the tex output.

Enjoy the Tuftesque typesetting in your own work! Some snippets from my work in progress, no figures so far.

tufte-latex-book

Title Page

tufte-latex-book-2Table of contents

tufte-latex-book-3Main text

World We Live In

“I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. That’s not something I’m willing to support, it’s not something I’m willing to build, and it’s not something I’m willing to live under.”

via Techdirt.

Triple Standards

With the case of Tarun Tejpal exposed there was a media flurry for breaking the news to the audience. But it was a broken news, it did not need breaking. Though I am not against questions Mr. Tejpal, and some media houses questioning Tehelka having double standards this episode needs a deeper analysis.

Sometime back the Niraa Radia tapes appeared in the public. And they were breaking the news. But soon some very interesting personalities also surfaced in the tapes. They included the likes of Ratan Tata and Barkha Dutt amongst others. And suddenly there was a complete radio silence on that. It seems NDTV especially became really silent about this whole issue. But more importantly none of the other media houses dared to raise questions to Ms. Dutt, the tone and manner which we are seeing in case of Mr. Tejpal, via Shoma Choudhary. Since we have already crossed the double standards, I call this particular episode from media having “Triple Standards”. One for themselves, one for the general public and one for vendetta against fellow reporters who might have made them uncomfortable in the past.

Personally for me, the case against Ms. Dutt was for more serious and grave as the future of entire country was being decided, though no “individuals” were harmed. And also the intent and tonality of the Radia tapes just shows how powerful and at the same time morally corrupt the media have become. So far Mr. Tejpal is concerned he admitted to and will perhaps face law for what he has done. But what about Ms. Dutt? No cases, not even a CBI enquiry! The matter has been suppressed well. Forget about law, one has a feeling that collective amnesia that media is presenting in this case will make even people forget that this incident ever happened. Even after all this there seems to be no remorse and none of other journalist dared ask accountability from Ms. Dutt or for that matter anyone else from NDTV. So this vehement attack on Tehelka on this issue seems more like a soap opera which shows that they do not leave out people from media when they are exposed. What about themselves?

I just no longer see Ms. Dutt speaking on behalf of “We The People” for she is no longer one of us, but rather firmly on the other side.

Privatization, Responsibility and Corruption

Privatisation seems to have gone from dynamic ideological choice, to route of least resistance for the state to abdicate its responsibility in a variety of policy areas. Anything difficult and measurable – problem schools; elderly care; waste disposal; big infrastructure projects – is left to private capital. In exactly the same way that outsourcing has evolved for private enterprise, it has become an expensive way of getting rid of problems to which those in charge have no solutions.

It is much easier to close a free school than to explain why a state school has gone disastrously wrong.

via theguardian

The same is happening in India. Now they are planning to privatize airports and Indian Airlines on the reasons of efficiency. For education, the government supports private school with aids. When the same money could have been used to better the government schools. In each sector the reliance on private sector to do the jobs is increasing. Even in case of vehicles in government offices, the trend is that you employ a private vehicle and a driver, instead of having a driver on the payroll. So is the case with computer maintenance. In each government office there are private firms which are paid large sums to make sure that the computers are kept running. Why can’t there be an internal department to look after that? The privatization both complete and contractual, lead to massive corruption opportunities for both politicians and the bureaucrats as can be seen in the recent series of scams that have surfaced in India. The main problem that is facing the people is privatization of our natural resources and that of responsibilities of the Government, the resulting corruption is just the tip of the iceberg. It is a symptom of the disease. Even then the major media houses never question, why these mega scams became possible in the first place? They are more eager to make scapegoats out of certain people, but the system which allowed the scams to happen is never challenged.

That said, it seems the ideological stance privatization, resulting in denial of responsibility of state and loss of money from the public purse cannot be halted unless there is a strong pressure from within to halt such measures.

Topological Art

ILLUSTRATIONS FOR TOPOLOGY

From the book Introduction to Topology by Yu. Borisovich, N. Bliznyakov, Ya. Izrailevich, T. Fomenko. The book was published by Mir Publishers in 1985.


ILLUSTRATION TO CHAPTER I

The central part of the picture presents the standard embedding chain of crystalline groups of the three dimensions of Euclidean space: their standard groups embedded into each other are depicted as fundamental domains (Platonic bodies: a cube, a tetrahedron, a dodecahedron). The platonic bodies are depicted classically, i.e., their canonical form is given, they are supported by two-dimensional surfaces (leaves), among which we discern the projective plane (cross-cap), and spheres with handles. The fantastic shapes and interlacings (as compared with the canonical objects) symbolizes the topological equivalence.

At the top, branch points of the Riemann surfaces of various multiplicities are depicted: on the right, those of the Riemann surfaces of the functions w=5z√ and w=z√; on the left below, that of the same function w=z√, and over it, a manifold with boundary realizing a bordism mod 3.

ILLUSTRATION TO CHAPTER II

The figure occupying most of the picture illustrates the construction of a topological space widely used in topology, i.e., a 2-adic solenoid possessing many interesting extremal properties. The following figures are depicted there: the first solid torus is shaded, the second is white, the third is shaded in dotted lines and the fourth is shaded doubly. To obtain the 2-adic solenoid , it is necessary to take an infinite sequence of nested solid tori, each of which encompasses previous twist along its parallel, and to form their intersection.

Inside the opening, a torus and a sphere with two handles are shown. The artist’s skill and his profound knowledge of geometry made it possible to represent complex interlacing of the four nested solid tori accurately.

ILLUSTRATION TO CHAPTER III

The canonical embedding of a surface of genus g into the three-dimensional Euclidean space is represented 0n the right . A homeomorphic embedding of the same surface is shown on the left . The two objects are homeomorphic, homotopic and even isotopic . The artist is a mathematician and he has chosen these two, very much different in their appearance, from an infinite set of homeomorphic images.


ILLUSTRATION TO CHAPTER IV

Here an infinite total space of covering over a two-dimensional surface, viz., a sphere with two handles, is depicted. The artist imparted the figure the shape of a python and made the base space of the covering look very intricate. Packing spheres into the three-dimensional Euclidean space and a figure homeomorphic to the torus are depicted outside the central object. The mathematical objects are placed so as to create a fantastic landscape.

ILLUSTRATION TO CHAPTER V

A regular immersion of the projective plane RP2 in R3 is represented in the centre on the black background. The largest figure is the Klein bottle (studied in topology as a non-orientable surface) cut in two (Moebius strips) along a generator by a plane depicted farther right along with the line intersection; the lower part is plunging downwards; the upper part is being deformed (by lifting the curve of intersection and building the surface up) into a surface with boundary S1; a disc is being glued to the last, which yields the surface RP2. The indicated immersion process can be also used for turning S2 `inside out’ into R3.

On the outskirts of the picture, a triangulation of a part of the Klein bottle surface is represented.

A detailed explanation of this picture may serve as a material for as much as a lecture in visual topology.

Plagiarism Vs. Copyright

It is in the interest of the publishers to confuse plagiarism with copyright. And many people wouldn’t know the difference. So here is a difference between the two:

First, plagiarism is a violation of academic norms but not illegal; copyright violation is illegal, but in truth pretty ubiquitous in academia. (Where did you get that PDF?)

Second, plagiarism is an offence against the author, while copyright violation is an offence against the copyright holder. In traditional academic publishing, they are usually not the same person, due to the ubiquity of copyright transfer agreements (CTAs).

Third, plagiarism applies when ideas are copied, whereas copyright violation occurs only when a specific fixed expression (e.g. sequence of words) is copied.

Fourth, avoiding plagiarism is about properly apportioning intellectual credit, whereas copyright is about maintaining revenue streams.

via Plagiarism is nothing to do with copyright

This would also relate to an earlier post, in making the difference between wrong and illegal. It can be exemplified in this case also.

Suppose for her research person A need a particular research article and she or her institution do not have access to it. What does A do?
She asks her friends in other institutes if they have access to this article. That means that the institute they are working in have subscription to the journal in which this article was published. Among her friends person B has access to the article. Suppose she sends A an electronic copy of the article. A is happy, that she got the article. B is also happy, that he could be of help to A. But strictly speaking this is illegal. In the fine print all the publisher website have Terms and Conditions which we have to agree to (without reading them most of the times and they are written in legalese). These terms and conditions prevent us from sharing these articles from anyone else who might not have access to. For example for JSTOR the terms and conditions are listed here. If you read these finely what emerges is the way in which the publishers control the flow of information. For example it says:

Institutional Licensees shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that access to the Licensed 
Content is limited to Authorized Users and to protect the Licensed Content from unpermitted use.

This clause essentially makes what happened between A and B illegal and just for sharing this article they might terminate the B’s institutional access to JSTOR. Now we can ask this question that whether the gesture on B’s part to help A was wrong and illegal both? As per definition by JSTOR this is clearly a violation of copyright. But what is the status of A’s research which emerges from this article given by B. Is it illegal? Can it be called as plagiarised (A gives proper citation of course)?  

If you apply Kolhberg’s theory of moral development, the person who has the most developed morality will perhaps help the other without bothering about the copyright!

 

 

Illegal and Wrong

We have to get out of the mindset of thinking that things are wrong because they are illegal. People make laws and people can change those laws.
via Silk Road

Often people equate being illegal to being wrong. Though this may be true at times, it need not be always true. This is a fact that many people forget and do not think about.The laws that we have were made in a specific time with conditions pertaining to those times. And the fact that  they are made by people. They may not be relevant any more. Or it might be just that the laws presented views of the majority or of the rich and the powerful. And many times breaking the law itself is the right thing to do. Gandhi in his life showed this many times. So was it wrong when Gandhi broke the salt law, for example? If there is a law against speaking about wrongs government does, it would be illegal to break such a law, but would it be wrong?

 

 

LaTeX Notes

This is a post for self-reference.

There are many LaTeX packages that I come across, and forget about them.

This page will keep a track of those packages. It will be updated with new hacks and packages that are useful.

\usepackage{libgreek}

\usepackage{pgfgantt}

  • For including video/audio files in Beamer presentations

\usepackage{media9}

Kindle, Lego and E-Books

What do you do when Digital Restrictions Management prevents you from doing a lot of things on your own device. I do not know if we can even say it is a device we own, as the company offering books to us can revoke the books at will, without asking you. This was infamously and ironically seen in the removal of Nineteen Eighty Four from Kindle devices without their owners permission.

This is what RMS has to say about Kindle and its practices by Amazon:

“This malicious device designed to attack the traditional freedoms of readers: There’s the freedom to acquire a book anonymously, paying cash — impossible with the Kindle for all well-known recent books. There’s the freedom to give, lend, or sell a book to anyone you wish — blocked by DRM and unjust licenses. Then there’s the freedom to keep a book — denied by a back door for remote deletion of books.”Richard Stallman

So what do you do against such mal-practices and devices operations which are defective by design?

Since these companies do all in their power to prevent users from taking any stuff out, using all hi-fi programming, what can one do about them?

Here is one low tech solution! And one fine use of Lego Mindstorms!

via DIY kindle scanner

Also if you are rather old-fashioned, and even lower tech solution would be to simply one can just make a carbon-copy of the Kindle e-book from a copier or scanner, thanks to their E ink technology, it is as good as a printed book.

Case Building

“So this case is building and this case will build,”

via ToI

It seems the US of  A is bent on waging a war against Syria to remove Assad. First the civil war, which was a war by proxy. Many thought that what happened in Libya could also happen in Syria. But Assad proved more formidable than Gaddafi. And after months of civil war, there seems to be no end to Assad’s rule. This must have upset the US much, after all a proxy war also costs money. And if you do not get any returns, we you make more investment to get the returns. This is what US seems to be doing in this conflict. Of course, they could have politely asked Mr. Assad that he should step down voluntarily, but many doubt that if this would have worked. In case of Syria, Russia is backing them, so there seems to be some hope for them.

And it is almost laughable, when US president or his ADCs say the word “evidence”. They are crying wolf again. Maybe one should ask US president, where are the WMDs in Iraq? This was the presumed reason for their invasion of Iraq, though some believe that actually it was the oil of the American companies that the Iraqis were living on hostage, which actually led to the war. But, even after so many years, they have yet to find any evidence for WMDs in Iraq. Perhaps, they supplied them to Syria, which is using them against their own citizens. So this is not a new war, but a continuation of the Iraq War. This is also reflected in comparison of Assad to Saddam and Hitler. And what about Hitler? Since the comparison has been made, this attack might be a continuation of the World War 2, in which holocaust happened, and now due to which innocent people in Syria will be killed with “precision strikes”.  That explains the Israel part well in the column.

And morality it seems has changed its meaning in Amerika. Perhaps one should not forget that US of A has done war crimes

Can a government that supported the use of chemical weapons in one conflict claim any moral, political or legal authority militarily to attack another country for using the same weapons, particularly when the attack is not authorised by the UN Security Council?

Not only did the US aid the use of chemical weapons by the former Iraqi government, it also used chemical weapons on a large scale during its 1991 and 2003 invasions of Iraq, in the form of depleted-uranium (DU) ammunition.

As Dahr Jamail’s reporting for Al Jazeera has shown, the use of DU by the US and UK has very likely been the cause not only of many cases of Gulf War Syndrome suffered by Iraq war veterans, but also of thousands of instances of birth defects, cancer and other diseases – causing a “large-scale public health disaster” and the “highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied” – suffered by Iraqis in areas subjected to frequent and intense attacks by US and allied occupation forces.

Thus what we have now is a situation in which a government (the United States) that has both supported and committed large-scale and systematic war crimes in one country (Iraq) is leading the international effort to stop Iraq’s neighbour Syria from continuing to use chemical weapons against its own people.

via Al-Jazeera

He invoked the crimes of Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein and the potential threat to Israel from Syria and Iran… (op cit.)

This perhaps tells us one more thing. This actually might be a continuation of World War 2 and Saddam and Assad are seen as heirs of Hitler. And they have to punished because there was a holocaust, see how logically the problem of Israel emerges in all this chaos!

Of course the next target seems to be Iran, but for now, it seems they would be happy to get Syria as well.

Although Obama has asked for congressional approval for the attack, this approval is not mandatory for the attack. It seems this is just a strategy to make it look legitimate. And after UK has bowed out of the possible attack, it seems that Obama will have to use the later option. And all the (un)evidence, is used to case building the case against Syria.

And finally this entire episode can be seen as actualization of the statement:

If you don’t come to democracy, democracy will come to you.

Nothing remains to be held…

” It happens, sometimes, that things are too much.

Stacks overflow.

Trusses break.

I get that.

What I don’t get is: how one barrels through.

Where does that strength come from?

How is it fed?

And if it doesn’t appear on command, how does one hold on, waiting?

Everything is collapsing.

By definition, that means: nothing remains to be held. ”

~ Anon.

via Lessig Blog, v2.

Undownloading

So, it seems that ebook users need to add a new word to their vocabulary: “undownloading” — what happens when you leave the authorized zone in which you may read the ebooks you paid for, and cross into the digital badlands where they are taken away like illicit items at customs. If you are lucky, you will get them back when you return to your home patch — by un-undownloading them.

via Techdirt

Added.

Consider this was a physical book, you would be fined for smuggling books that you have legitimately brought or your books taken under protective custody by someone, after all they contain the most dangerous things known to humans – ideas!

 

Important Lesson

“This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without Congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States,”

via NYTimes

Read the article. What would you do when faced with such situation?

Open Access Manifesto

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it
for themselves. The world's entire scientific and cultural heritage, published
over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked
up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the
most famous results of the sciences? You'll need to send enormous amounts to
publishers like Reed Elsevier. 

There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought
valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but
instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow
anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only
apply to things published in the future.  Everything up until now will have been
lost. 

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work
of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at
Google to read them?  Providing scientific articles to those at elite
universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It's
outrageous and unacceptable. 

"I agree," many say, "but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights,
they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it's perfectly
legal - there's nothing we can do to stop them." But there is something we can,
something that's already being done: we can fight back. 

Those with access to these resources - students, librarians, scientists - you
have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while
the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not - indeed, morally, you
cannot - keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with
the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download
requests for friends. 

Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have
been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information
locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends. 

But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It's called
stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral
equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn't
immoral - it's a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to
let a friend make a copy. 

Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they
operate require it - their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the
politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the
exclusive power to decide who can make copies. 

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It's time to come into the light
and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to
this private theft of public culture. 

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share
them with the world. We need to take stuff that's out of copyright and add it to
the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to
download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need
to fight for Guerilla Open Access. 

With enough of us, around the world, we'll not just send a strong message
opposing the privatization of knowledge - we'll make it a thing of the past.
Will you join us? 

Aaron Swartz

July 2008, Eremo, Italy

via | Open Access Manifesto

NYT Newspeak

Asylum is for people who are afraid to return to their own country because they fear persecution, unlawful imprisonment or even death because of their race, their ethnicity, their religion, their membership in particular social or political groups, or their political beliefs.

Mr. Snowden undoubtedly fears returning home because he would be arrested and prosecuted. But those fears do not qualify him for asylum. And does he really feel safer in a country where Mr. Putin, an increasingly authoritarian leader, has jailed and persecuted his critics?

via NYTimes

This is complete newspeak on part of NYT. Mark the last words in the first quote “their political beliefs”. The case of Snowden is not about military secrets, but about his political beliefs. The belief that those in power should not abuse it, the belief that those who have abused the power should be brought to light. It is in fact for these very beliefs they are targeting him.

And why should not he fear arrest and prosecution? As they have done with Manning, they will do with him and Assange. This would be just to set an example, so that no one else does it. Actually Putin and Obama are no different. If at all someone from any other country, lets say Cuba, would come to the US, having leaked Cuban secrets, won’t the US consider giving them asylum. And does giving that person the asylum, has to do anything with how Obama himself is running the show. If spying on your own people, breaching their privacy to the fullest is okay then jailing and persecuting the critics is no different.

 

What is in thy name?

They say “What is in the name?”, I ask “What is in thy name?”

I use the alias damitr in many places. It is actually an acronym for my full name. My name among its various meanings also means something which is ‘the immeasurable.’ But recently while solving an anagram problem it had an idea: what all meanings can be derived from this acronym?

So I used a Free Software named an,  apparently one of the original writers of the program is Julian Assange. But the usage is very simple, and it is available on Debian repositories,

So I typed

$an damitr

And I got all the possible combinations of these 6 words. It turned out some of them are quite meaningful and do actually make sense why I am ‘the immeasurable’!

Some of the interesting  anagrams are:

triad m
admit r

dirt am

am  dirt !

dirt ma

ma dirt

dart i’m

i’m dart

dart mi

dram it

Mt. Arid

Mt. Raid

rid mat

rid tam
dim tar

dim art

dim rat
mid art

mad it r

Dr Mita

Dr. Amit!

Dr Tima

Dr. Tami

Dr. Itam !

di mart
i’d mart
id mart
id tram
i’d tram
di tram

ad trim

d tarim

Among others…